With the ability to provide a secure and reliable record of vaccine delivery, the technology is set to play a vital role in the fight against the pandemic - and finally start to live up to some of the earlier hype
As part of the direct response to the Covid-19 pandemic, vaccination has always been the light at the end of the ever-lengthening tunnel. One of Osborne Clarke's clients, BioNTech, has been at forefront of vaccine development with the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine being the first vaccine approved for use. The Osborne Clarke team advise BioNTech on a range of matters, including intellectual property, technology and other commercial issues.
Alongside biotech and pharmaceutical research, a host of cutting-edge technologies are being tested and deployed as part of the vaccination efforts. Among them is a blockchain-based supply chain ledger that provides comfort that vaccine has been kept in the correct conditions and will provide effective protection to those who receive it.
Opportunity in the face of adversity
They say that necessity is the mother of invention and the pandemic has presented an opportunity for numerous businesses. It may be a begrudging acknowledgement as a result of the much-maligned 'Zoom fatigue', but companies delivering conferencing services and general connectivity capabilities have powered the remote workforce and assumed responsibility for the population's social life, and have prospered accordingly. The advent of mass remote working brought renewed concern over cybersecurity, and demand for enhanced software and cloud services has boosted this industry.
It is evident, then, that new technologies and the wider application of existing ones have kept several areas of the economy thriving. Notably, the World Economic Forum highlighted blockchain as being an essential tool in the fight against the virus. Back in July 2020, a WEF publication suggested that efficient and equitable rollout of vaccinations would rely heavily on blockchain technology, and this prediction has materialised in the UK.
What role for blockchain?
Upon approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, it was widely reported that in order to ensure maximum efficacy, the doses would need to be stored at -70°C. In the UK, Hedera Hashgraph and Everyware have been working with the NHS on its storage and distribution of these vaccinations. The supply chain is crucial to ensuring that conditions are kept at optimal levels, and Hedera's distributed ledger provides the reliable, efficient and cost-effective record-keeping function afforded by blockchain. Entries on the ledger at each point along the supply chain will, in tandem with Everyware's tracking and monitoring capabilities, provide reassurance of effective vaccination handling as the rollout continues at pace.
The Hedera and Everyware work was reported as being carried out on a trial basis in two hospitals, but the expectation is that this blockchain application will be applied more broadly as vaccinations progress. The same or similar system will, if WEF's prediction is correct, be seen across the world, making blockchain an essential weapon in the arsenal as all countries seek a way out of the crisis.
Osborne Clarke comment
Practical (and high-profile) applications for this technology have until now been few and far between. That has caused many to question whether blockchain was a solution looking for a problem. With the hype of 2015-2018 long behind us, and as we move past the trough of disillusionment, this most benevolent of use cases shows that there are real world applications for the technology beyond Bitcoin and other cryptoassets.
Originally published 23 February 2021
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